Making Self-Service BI useable


Making Self-Service BI more appealing for the User

Making self-service BI usableThe topic of self–service Business Intelligence (BI) has been around for many years now, but has steadily continued to become more important as businesses have become more information driven and data volumes and information utilisation continues to grow. A measure of success for Self-Service BI is the degree of uptake of self-service BI by the business user community. In this post I discuss the question “How can self-service BI be made more appealing for the business user?”

In the past, most organisations have relied on the BI team (typically resorting somewhere under IT) to provide employees with access to tools to perform data analytics and to provide users with access to reports and dashboards through a managed BI delivery system. However, with self-service BI, staff members at organisations can have access to all the information they need using the appropriate tools without the hassle of asking the BI team for assistance and then having to wait for their response.

 The most appropriate definition for Self-Service BI I came across was from Tech Target, which states that ‘Self-service Business Intelligence (SSBI) is an approach to data analytics that enables business users to access and work with corporate information without the IT department’s involvement (except, of course, to set up the data warehouse and data marts underpinning the Business Intelligence (BI) system and deploy the self-service query and reporting tools.)’.

In fact, in my experience over the years, as the volume of data has increased, as well as the increase in the proliferation in the use of BI, business users and decision-makers in most organisations do not have the time to wait for the reports from the BI team. In many cases they feel they cannot rely on the BI team to get the job done timeously. This is where self-service BI comes into the picture.

Self-Service Reporting involves setting up a self-service BI environment in which the suitable skilled business users (typically called Power Users) themselves can create and access specific sets of BI reports, dashboards and analytics; thereby becoming more self-sufficient, more self-reliant and less dependent on the IT organization.

The purpose of this self-service BI environment is to extend the reach and scope of BI applications to address a wider range of business needs and problems. At the same time, this extension must support the (Power) Users’ need for a personalized and collaborative decision-making environment. The platform should provide a set of programmatic and visual tools and a development workbench for building reports, dashboards, queries and analysis.

Using such an environment, business units can deploy their own applications, tailored to their specific requirements, according to their own timetable.

While self-service BI has many key aspects associated to it, I consider the following to be the main user-oriented objectives of using it:

  • End-user focussed – this is the most important aspect of all – which means, it must be easy to use. That is exactly the purpose that self-service BI was designed for – with the non-techie audience in mind. Users must be able to produce and examine their reports with simplicity and accuracy. This does not mean that they do not have to attend training, and a briefing of how the data is made available and what exactly it means; it just means that once this has been done, end-users can help themselves and get the job done easily, without having to require additional support.
  • Data visualisation – the purpose of BI is to allow businesses to arrive at conclusions and present interesting information to decision-makers. Self-service BI therefore must allow the business users to produce their own analyses and visualisations so that they can deliver information in a format that is easy to read and understand.
  • Data integration – The previous objective can be difficult to achieve, as most BI tools can report data in great graphs and colours, but the complexity lies in having the technology set up in such a manner that it can join or integrate data from numerous data sources while still handling vast amounts of data. Therefore you need to employ a set of BI tools with data integration capabilities. Ideally, if the data warehouse does not already provide the data pre-integrated, the toolset should do the integration behind the scenes (usually as configured by IT) with no additional interaction required from a business user. Personally, however, I advocate that the data should be integrated and conformed in a data warehouse before it is made available for true enterprise-wide self-service reporting.
  • Easy to activate –in order to truly gain self-service BI, the toolset needs to be quick and easy to get going on, again, with very little input from the IT department. A business user should be able to get access to the toolset and get it working in his / her environment. Only when business users can activate their own access to reporting applications, customised to their unique requirements, can they gain their own independence away from IT and to respond to their business needs independently.
  • Easy to access data – users should be able to find and identify the data they need for reporting and analysis. The data should bein business terms, without any reference to complex source system data models.
  • Easy to analyse data – the data should be structured and defined in such a way to support detailed data analysis (search, drill-down, exploration, etc.)
  • Easy to set up information delivery – it must easy to use the BI tools to query the data and set up reports and dashboards. The users need to be able to use code-free, “drag and drop,” user-driven combinations of data (from different sources) to create reports, dashboards and interactive analyses. They need to be able to create reports of varying complexity, including dashboards with interactive indicators and alerts through to multi-level reports with filtering and drill-down capabilities.
  • Customiseable – users must be able to personalise their reports and dashboards or have automated BI capabilities so that the information becomes actionable for their particular situations.
  • Consumable – the information must be presented in a format that is easy to consume and understand. The users must be able to grasp what the information presented to them means. It must also be delivered to a user interface and device of their choosing.
  • East to deploy – the reports and dashboards developed by the super-users must be fast and easy to deploy. It must be easy to discover, access and share the information, reports and analytical results with other users.
  • Collaboration – in the modern era of social media, users want to collaborate and interact with and around the reports and analytical results. Collaboration facilities encourage and make discussions around the data feasible and possible.

 User satisfaction increases dramatically when this level of creation and management of reports and analytics is available to the business community. Looking at these objectives, and taking into account the fact that businesses today are dealing with copious amounts of data, all of which needs to be analysed, self-service BI becomes a very practical option for most organisations. It allows for quicker data analysis to take place, faster decisions to be made and therefore, result in a much more productive workforce.

My next blog post will look at ways in which self-service BI can be effectively implemented.

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